Connie, who edited my ill-fated book, no longer remembers me. She has what her brother says was a series of strokes, but what appears to me to be Alzheimer’s. She’s in a nursing home, in the Alzheimer’s unit, in Connecticut.
We met in 1972, soon after I started as a marketing research analyst at the company where I worked. She was the client rep for the research supplier we had to use, so we talked several times a week. When she came down from NY to visit, we’d go out for elaborate lunches, becoming good friends in the process.
She was 16 years older than I. We would joke that she was my beacon, illuminating what was in store for me in the future.
After she retired, and I had begun my book, I asked her to edit it. I would send her a month at a time and we talked nearly every day.
I first noticed the change in her the weekend of her husband’s funeral. I was staying with her in Connecticut.
On the first night of my visit I sat facing her at the kitchen table. On the counter next to us the cats made their way around piles of unwashed dishes, sniffing at their food. She ducked her head, not looking at me as she described her husband’s body at the funeral home that had no refrigeration. Her hair, lank and long, fell in her eyes.
It was hard to hear, hard to know what to say. I kept imagining my own husband decomposing, twenty years hence. I made a sound.
“What do you mean by that?” Connie imitated me, mockingly, her voice biting. “‘Oh-h-h’ is a noise one would make when admiring a small dog, or a cute baby. It’s demeaning when speaking to an adult.”
I apologized. We moved on.
She kept forgetting things: when I had last visited; where we had had lunch that day. There was lot to do, preparing for the funeral, but she became provoked when I tried to help.
Although I tried to be unobtrusive during our remaining time together, Connie’s annoyance at me became more and more evident. I turned over various explanations in my head: she’s had a great shock, and is now in denial, projecting her anger at John for dying onto me. People tend to forget things when they’re in shock, especially after a sudden death. When someone dies it shatters one’s illusion of control; my offers of help may have intruded into the only area Connie could still control – her own household.
Now I see what was really happening. Now I wonder what lies in store for me.